8 Things I Learned About Sales Coaching by Coaching Boxers

I’ve worked in media and sales for years. In the past I’ve successfully transitioned teams from inside sales to outside, and taken existing sales teams and improved both their stability and their performance.  But I’ve also been a boxing coach for a number of years as well.

When I was asked recently about coaching a team, I immediately thought of the boxing gym. Because what applies there can be applied anywhere else. Coaching fighters is like coaching sales. It’s straightforward. It’s not simple, but it is straightforward. In simple terms, keep it simple – be consistent, and don’t try and change everything all at once. Here’s a few other things I’ve learnt to be important coaching sales, boxing and other contact sports 🙂

1. BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING.

Sometimes you have fighter in front of you filled with potential. They are fit, lean, fast and, most important, willing. The temptation is to skip ahead to more complex movements, attacks and counters. This is also the worst thing you can do. Start from the ground up. Don’t, DO NOT, try and change everything all at once, even when you can see it. Everybody that walks through the door, the first thing we do is simple: how to stand. Because everything comes off a solid foundation. Begin at the beginning. . . and then:

2. KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Even with the fastest learners, you have to go one step at a time. The most advanced combinations of footwork, body positioning and punch combinations are all only single steps strung together. But, and this is important, each one of those steps has to be built up one at a time. Keep it simple. Improve and polish one area at a time. From there you can . . .

3. BUILD ON SUCCESS

What works? Make it stronger. What doesn’t? That can wait a moment. Help them see the areas they’re doing well in, so you can build on that confidence. Then you can narrow the focus back onto the things that aren’t working so well. Having a fighter that knows his strengths and his weaknesses is far more valuable than one that is always worried about perfection. Because . . .

4. BELIEF MATTERS

Turning back to sales for a moment, I once had a challenging sales rep working for me. Plenty of ability, plenty of charisma, great presentation, but seemingly zero ambition. All the coaching in the world wasn’t helping. One day after watching him not switch on his computer for a half an hour I took him aside and asked him ‘What do you want?’ ‘What do you mean?’ he asked (expecting a blasting.) ‘Well you’ve been here for 3 months. And you have the ability to do so much better. I expect you to. But you’ve wasted half an hour today. So here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to decide if you’ve wasted the last 3 months. Because everyone here knows what you can do and sees you not doing it. I know you can smash this. But none of that matters. You have to decide: have you wasted your time here, or are you ready? It’s up to you. So. What do you want?’ Within 3 months he was consistently my best performer. Soon he moved over to another section – we talked about where he wanted to go, and we set a pathway for him to follow. But it was all his belief. I see the same thing with fighters. A smaller guy that truly believes can and will wipe the floor with most anybody. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses, and work with what you have – by believing in it. This is much easier if you . . .

5. DON’T OVERTHINK IT.

Keep it simple. Or to steal from my head coach and mentor Dan Fleming: ‘Over-analysis causes paralysis.” He’s seen it, I’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. People so caught up in the minutiae of technique they forget how dynamic the environment they have to work in is. Or as the great Joe Louis put it “Everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit.” Focus on the small stuff, but one small chunk at a time, over and over. Which reminds me . . .

6. BE PREPARED TO REPEAT YOURSELF.

Tell them. Then show them. Then tell them again. And again. Then show them again. And again. This process never stops. Because success is built of many small steps, repeated again and again. I’m coaching my son maths. We have a saying: ‘Don’t do it until you get it right. Do it until you can’t get it wrong.’ Of course, this only works if you . . .

7. BE CONSISTENT.

This is critical. Most people don’t like change. By asking them to come with you as you coach them, they are already moving out of a comfort area. Do not make your job harder for yourself. If you are consistent with your areas of focus, with your messages and with your structure, it makes it both easier to teach, and for your team to absorb the content. You always want the focus to be on the changes you need them to take on board – rather than worry about what you’re going to say or do next. Be consistent. Because . . .

8. THERE IS NO MAGIC PUNCH. No silver bullet.  No perfect counter, no perfect guard, no universal move. I cannot give you that, and nor can anyone. Likewise there is no magic ‘line’ in sales – it’s all just fundamentals. Asking questions, listening to the answers, having solid product knowledge, and owning what you do. The closest I’ve ever seen to a magic line in sales isn’t really a sales line at all. I stole it from a former florist turned online sales guru. (He spotted the move to online flower orders early and acted. He’s not a florist anymore.)  His silver bullet is, in my opinion, as close to perfect as I’ve found; and it’s more a philosophy. He simply asks this: “What do you want?”  with genuine sincerity – and that’s why it works so often. So simple, so clear, so direct. Like a clean left hook.

Coaching fighters and coaching salespeople is straightforward. It’s not simple, but it is straightforward. Keep it simple, be consistent, and don’t try and change everything all at once. And remember – keep your hands up!

Mike W.

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